The Law of Reconciliation
(15thOrdinary Sunday: Deut. 30:10-14; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37)
We have a choice between two Responsorial Psalms today. Psalm 69 invites us to turn to God in times of trouble; Psalm 19 sings the praises of the Law of the Lord. Both speak to a La Salette heart.
The Beautiful Lady describes the behavior of her people at the prospect of famine: “When you found the potatoes spoiled, you swore, and threw in my Son's name.” In this situation, blasphemous language seems to have come to them more spontaneously than prayer.
The Law was one of God’s greatest gifts to his chosen people, a source of pride, even. The psalmist recognizes this in many other places, notably at the end of Psalm 147: “He has proclaimed his word to Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances to Israel. He has not done thus for any other nation; his ordinances he has not made known to them.” Moses makes an impassioned plea: “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes.”
But Mary has seen that her people do not love God with all their heart, being, strength and mind.
Her remedy for this situation is presented in what today we would call a “multi-media” approach. There is the message, of course. But her tears say what words cannot. Light contrasts with the darkness she describes. And, most important of all, the crucifix she bears on her breast reminds us, as we read in St. Paul today, that God, through Jesus, chose “to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
At the end of the Good Samaritan Parable, Jesus says: “Go and do likewise.” That is: “Ask not, then, Who is my neighbor? but, To whom can I be a neighbor?”
This is an invitation to go beyond the Law. The spirit of reconciliation is not confined to certain persons or to the observance of certain precepts.
The message of La Salette does not directly address the question of the “neighbor.” But when we contemplate this visit of the Blessed Virgin, coming to our aid and showing us the way, how could we fail to hear the invitation to go and do likewise?
(14thOrdinary Sunday: Isaiah 66:10-14; Galatians 6:14-18; Luke 10:1-20)
There is nothing wrong in taking satisfaction in the successes and joys that come our way. We must, however, learn to acknowledge their source. As Jesus said: “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Matthew 22:21).
But, we may wonder, “How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good he has done for me?” (Psalm 116:12). This is where prayer comes in.
Mary asked the children at La Salette, “Do you say your prayers well?” They admitted they did not.
Prayer takes many forms. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, beginning with number 2626, describes them as: Blessing and Adoration; Petition; Intercession; Thanksgiving; Praise. The Beautiful Lady mentions the Our Father and the Hail Mary, the Mass, and Lent. Spiritual authors distinguish discursive prayer, contemplation, Lectio divina, and so on.
Failure to acknowledge who God is and who we are is poison to the spiritual life. Prayer is by no means the only response to God’s goodness, but it is fundamental. Without it, whatever else we do in his service and the service of others can lead to a warped sense of self-sufficiency.
Yes, St. Paul sometimes boasts of his accomplishments, but even then he acknowledges that God has made them possible. His feeling is best expressed, however, in his heartfelt prayer: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The seventy-two disciples in today’s Gospel are thrilled at the powers Jesus has given them; but he cautions them: “Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”
Isaiah uses the lovely image of a nursing mother to prophesy a time of abundance. At La Salette, our mother Mary spoke of “heaps of wheat.” In both cases, the future event is preceded by a time of hardship and mourning, after which “the Lord’s power shall be known to his servants.”
Praying well is nothing more nor less than regular personal communication with our all-powerful God. Its importance cannot be exaggerated.
(13thOrdinary Sunday: 1 Kings 19:16-21; Galatians 5:1-18; Luke 9:51-62)
The Psalmist sings today, “I set the Lord ever before me.” This serves at least two purposes. First, as we read in the second half of the same verse, it inspires trust. But it is also a reminder of our own commitment to the Lord.
Jesus “resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem,” knowing full well what awaited him there. He expects the same steadfastness from those who seek to follow him; in particular they must leave behind everything and everyone else.
In 1846, the Revolutionary slogan, “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity,” was well on its way to becoming the official motto of France. This attitude was directed, among others, to religion in general and, with particular ferocity, towards the Church.
In was in this context that a Beautiful Lady, in tears, came to call her people back to the integrity of their Christian heritage. She could have spoken about many ways in which her people had proven to be unfaithful. Instead, she chose what we might call typical examples, making the point that there is such a thing as an authentically Christian way of life, which places legitimate demands on us.
St. Paul champions freedom, but shows that it does not mean license to do anything we please. While he does not want the Galatians (who were “biting and devouring one another”) to “submit again to the yoke of slavery,” i.e. to the legalism associated with keeping the Law of Moses, he writes, “Live by the Spirit.”
But this, too, is a form of submission, not to something outside of us but within. Thus is fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:33: “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” God is faithful, and we are to be faithful in return.
Fidelity is, after all, the touchstone of any serious pledge, not only in marriage or religious life, for example, but fundamentally and more broadly as applied to our baptismal vows, our discipleship.
In her Litany, Mary is called Virgin most faithful. From Nazareth to Bethlehem to Egypt to Cana to Calvary to La Salette and Lourdes and so many other places, she is a perfect example of commitment and love.
Food in a Deserted Place
(Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ: Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 19:11-17)
La Salette is a remote spot in the lower French Alps. Whereas millions of pilgrims visit Lourdes each year, only some 250,000 come to this mountain Shrine, and then mostly in the spring and summer. Otherwise, it is quite a deserted place.
That was certainly the case on September 19, 1846. A handful of persons, including the two children, Maximin Giraud and Mélanie Calvat, were minding cattle or mowing hay. From where they had their simple meal of bread and cheese, Maximin and Mélanie could see no one else.
Then, suddenly, a Beautiful Lady was there!
She spoke, among other things, of other deserted places—the churches. During the French Revolution roughly 50 years earlier, France had become fiercely anti-Catholic. Times had changed since then, but the effects were still felt, and the nominally Catholic population retained a certain hostility toward religion.
Every now and then people leave the Catholic Church because of a conflict, or scandals, or rejection of Church teaching, etc. In so doing, they deprive themselves of the Eucharist. Today’s readings make it very clear how essential the Eucharist is to our Catholic Christian way of life. In both theory and practice, it is hard to imagine one without the other. Without the Eucharist, we find ourselves truly in a deserted place.
One of the longer Psalms describes a scene of persons wandering in a desert, hungry and thirsty. Finally they cry out to the Lord, who rescues them and leads them to a city. This portion of the Psalm concludes:
“Let them thank the Lord for his love,
for the wonders he does for men:
for he satisfies the thirsty soul;
he fills the hungry with good things.” (Ps. 107: 8-9)
Besides the readings, today’s Liturgy includes a Sequence, a poem written over 750 years ago by St. Thomas Aquinas when this Feast was first established. It echoes those same sentiments of gratitude for the goodness shown us in the gift of the Eucharist.
In the Mass, Christ blesses us and fills us with very good things indeed. Why should anyone prefer the deserted place?